Joe's feeling grand

JOE Royle's 1,000th game as a football manager promises to be in stark contrast to his very first as a boss.Royle reaches a major career milestone this evening when he leads Ipswich into their top-of-the-table clash with Coca-Cola Championship leaders Reading at Portman Road (kick-off 7.

JOE Royle's 1,000th game as a football manager promises to be in stark contrast to his very first as a boss.

Royle reaches a major career milestone this evening when he leads Ipswich into their top-of-the-table clash with Coca-Cola Championship leaders Reading at Portman Road (kick-off 7.45pm).

There will be a near-capacity crowd to cheer on Town in their bid to preserve their 100 per cent home record and regain top slot in the league.

Royle today recalled his inauspicious start in management with Oldham Athletic, casting his mind back to his very first game in charge on August 28, 1982.

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He said: “It was a home game against Shrewsbury, we won with an own goal and the crowd was about 2,900. To be honest it was instantly forgettable.

“There were times when I wondered what I had let myself in for, but we finished seventh that season. We did flirt with relegation on occasions and we always seemed to be selling players.

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“But we did get a team together and we were founder members of the Premier League. We had three seasons in the top flight and that's a bit like Colchester doing it now.”

Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks, who brought Royle back into football management to replace George Burley in October 2002, paid tribute to the Town boss.

Sheepshanks said: “The esteem in which Joe Royle is held among his peers says everything. He is much admired by his fellow managers the length and breadth of the country, not to mention many others in the game.

“He is a man of great stature, an enthusiast and engaging personality who has the rare ability of commanding both the respect and affection of his players.

“Joe joined us on a mission to return us to the Premiership. Despite the changing economic face of football and the type of conditions in which we and most clubs outside the Premier League have to operate these days, Joe is now fashioning a team that is increasingly giving cause for optimism.

“I am delighted for Joe to have reached this landmark and while he deserves all of the accolades he is getting I know he remains focused on the job at hand.”

Royle remains keen to have another crack at the Premiership with Ipswich and a victory tonight will be another significant step towards his goal.

He added: “I haven't seen Reading personally this season, but all the reports we have tell us they are a very good, well-established team.

“We saw last season that they can play and they have clearly continued from there. Everything points to them being a very together team.

“Nicky Forster has always been top-class at this level and Dave Kitson has come in from Cambridge to forge a good partnership with him.

“My old mate The Goat (Shaun Goater) is on the bench, which tells you how well Forster and Kitson have been doing together.

“But while we will pay Reading every respect, I am confident we can play a lot better than we did on Saturday to beat Plymouth. We need to start better and be better all-round.”

Royle said that his players had been stung by criticism aimed in their direction following their weekend comeback, when they recovered from being 2-0 down, then reduced to ten men, to record a vital 3-2 win.

He said: “I have read some negative stuff and the players didn't like it. But that sort of thing merely spurs us on.

“We can take great heart from the fact that we were nowhere near our best on Saturday and still won the game. It's not a bad habit to get into.

“But we are where we are in the league on merit. It doesn't matter which position you occupy, it's down to merit.”

Ipswich will have Matt Richards making his first league start since the mid-August defeat at Derby, when he was replaced on the hour mark by Fabian Wilnis.

Ironically, it is because of the Dutchman's red card on Saturday, which will see him serve a three-game ban, that the England Under-21 international returns to the starting line-up.

Royle will leave it late before confirming his selection, but it will be a major surprise following his late rescue act at the weekend if Shefki Kuqi does not replace Pablo Counago up front.

Ian Westlake, rested against Plymouth, is also likely to return with on-loan midfielder Tony Dinning dropping to the bench for his penultimate game before returning to Wigan - unless, that is, he is offered a permanent deal at Portman Road.

Young defender Jerrome Sobers is drafted into the squad and by taking his place on the bench will confirm his rapid progress since joining from Ford United last season.

Reading boast a similar home league record to that of Town - played five, won five - and have won twice on their travels. They have had two 1-0 successes, at Sheffield United and Watford, while going down 2-1 at Derby and by the only goal at both Millwall and West Ham.

Hitting top spot at the weekend was an historic occasion for the Berkshire club as they now occupy the highest league position in their 133-year history.

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